• Directory of Taiwan

Foreign diplomacy must forge ahead

Foreign diplomacy must forge ahead

China has never taken a short break on narrowing Taiwan’s international space despite President Ma Ying-jeou’s call for “diplomatic truce” with Beijing since he took office back in 2008.

Under the informal truce, both sides had agreed to temporarily cease trying to steal each other’s diplomatic allies. The move was seen as a more pragmatic and reconciliatory approach towards China, as well as an initiation to end the so-called “checkbook diplomacy” as the practice can easily tarnish Taiwan's image, according to Ma.

Beijing had initially kept its part of the bargain, refusing advances by countries such as El Salvador and Panama that have expressed the desire to abandon the Republic of China and fall for the increasingly attractive tit-for-tat packages shelled out by the People’s Republic of China.

Pumped up and ready to roll during his first tenure in office, Ma could only chew on his big words in later years as China refuses go easy on Taiwan’s diplomatic corridor.

In 2013, Gambia’s dictator Yahya Jammeh opted to sever ties with Taiwan for the PRC, an abrupt move that sent shockwaves through Ma’s administration.

At the time, reports said Jammeh’s change of heart was seen by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as a “slap in Ma’s face” since it was the president who also pledged that there will be no loss of ally during his term in office.

The setback immediately gave rise to speculation in Taipei as to whether the so-called “diplomatic truce” established between the two sides had come to an end.

Since Ma’s second term in office, China has not remained idle either. Besides showering the African continent with lavish investment projects in return for its gold, diamond, timber, and petroleum, Beijing has also been active in the South American region, including those that have diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

Earlier this year, nine of Taiwan’s 12 diplomatic partners in the region attended the China-Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit in Beijing. Although Ma’s administration assured that the meeting would not affect Taiwan’s relationship with its allies, it is simply too hard to ignore its growing clout over the continent.

Meanwhile, Beijing has stated that it plans to raise bilateral trade to US$500 billion and Chinese investment in Latin America to US$250 billion over 10 years. Although limited to economics, such treats are pretty enticing. Who knows if it is one of China’s political agenda to win back countries that have relations with Taiwan.

In a separate example, the Caribbean island of Haiti, one of Taipei’s staunchest allies who has maintained ties with the R.O.C. for 59 years, has also shown willingness to switch recognition to Beijing ever since President Michel Martelly took office in 2011, according to Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste. The Haitian leader even demonstrated his eagerness by relaxing visa restrictions on PRC citizens wishing to visit or invest in the island nation. Prior to 2011 during René Préval’s administration, Haiti’s consulates around the world were not authorized to issue visas to citizens of communist China without prior approval of the Haitian Foreign Ministry.

In a recent Deutsche Welle (DW) interview, Karl-Dieter Hoffmann, head of the Latin American Studies Institute at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, said he believes the projects are not only economic but also have geopolitical motives behind Beijing's scheme, who is currently the largest investor in Latin America than any other country.

Simply said, China’s ability to engage in checkbook diplomacy, giving aid and investing to an extent far greater than what Taiwan is capable, is an enticing factor for the small developing countries in this region.

As Beijing continues to knock on the doors of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies with gifts and enticing projects, one beckons if the government’s aptly-named “diplomatic truce” is still valid, or is it simply a “one-sided romance” that Beijing chose to break away after the honeymoon phase ended.

As the PRC continues to extend their economic might into Latin America, where some of the countries still have diplomatic relations with Taipei instead of Beijing, Ma’s government has so far managed to maintain such ties by investing heavily in development and infrastructure projects in the region. But for what’s it is worth, the ultimate question is how far our government is willing to go to maintain or establish new foreign relations with our diplomatic allies.

Truce or no truce, the existing and future R.O.C. government should step up the game and play a more aggressive role in the country’s foreign diplomacy, whether it is the DPP or Kuomintang party that comes to power next year.

Updated : 2021-09-19 17:38 GMT+08:00